:: Article

Three Unbooks: DuPlessis, Scutenaire, Scappettone

By Joe Milutis.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Poesis (Little Red Leaves Textile Editions)

The soft ideology of a prism is that out of a clear unity of emptiness comes all colors. In his preface to Un Coup de Dés, Mallarmé considers verse on the page “prismatic subdivisions of the Idea” that appear, then disappear across a surface that is more fundamentally poetic than the words themselves. The page itself is the source and well-spring of poiesis, its spacing both a ready-made, and part of the making. The blank of the page is usually more modest — the word itself self-effacing — and one has to have faith that the blank does anything. But here the problem is that it is doing too much, and thus not doing its job, being insufficiently blank. Mallarmé even puts the word “blanc” in quotes, this “so-called” blank — and in French we are reminded that blank is the color (blanc), not completely nothing, and in fact an over-fraught something.

And so the translator who — with robot arms composed of costume jewelry — picks up Mallarmé’s “Throw of the Dice,” must broach the question of the blank. The pips are easy — it is in the bone, what’s left of remembrance, the thing itself of chance and not the chance that chance avails that is the encumbrance of this antique speculator. This is, in essence, the meaning of the original “a throw of the dice will never abolish chance” . . . And it’s one of those cases in which, casting aside the meaning of the original we get at the meaning too. Because, were we to rearrange the lettering, or throw in a nymph at a busstop with a handmirror and golfclubs. No matter. Chance is the non-abolished substance, even though any translator’s chance is usually constrained to the already predetermined wording of the original.

It seems appropriate, then, that Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ translation of Mallarmé’s avantguardist chestnut — this chestnut blancmange — is not a translation at all. The first author I hear, in fact, is Williams (“a dispersal, a gathering”), a reference to the object-oriented preludium of Paterson. What DuPlessis has kept is the shape of the blank. Is this an erasure, or is she getting at the true, absolute substance of Mallarmé’s space-out? The cover of this book shows us the poem as if fully redacted by the FBI, black bars telegraphing unintelligibility across a white space. A player piano roll also comes to mind, as does Marcel Broodthaers’ conceptual translation from 1969. She’s titled the whole thing “Poesis,” as if what we find therein will be an ars poetica or other statement on poetic making (while “poiesis” is perennially misspelled, is this version intentionally without the “i” of subjectivity?); but in the transmission of Mallarmé’s blank, she may be making nothing at all. Mallarmé says of his project that “The paper intervenes each time as an image, of itself, ends or begins once more, accepting a succession of others, and, since, as ever, it does nothing.” Or consider Blanchot on Mallarmé: “We would know nothing if there did not always exist in advance the impersonal memory of the book and, more importantly, the prior inclination to write and read contained in every book and affirming itself only in the book. The absolute of the book, then, is the isolation of a possibility that claims not to have originated in any other anteriority.”…

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Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist, and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the University of Washington-Bothell. He is the author of the books Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything and Failure, A Writer’s Life, as well as numerous parabooks and unbooks. Recent projects include “The Veridencies,” an art history essay in rhymed verse on green flesh in paintings and a book length manuscript on “new Gothic materialism” in experimental literature and speculative philosophy.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 1st, 2019.